On Wednesday, the faculty voted 70-15 to adopt a new pass-fail option, beginning in the fall 2015 semester. The new pass-fail option allows students to take up to three courses pass-fail, although not more than one in the same semester. A student may designate a course as pass-fail until 10 weeks into the semester, but this designation is permanent. The minimum grade to earn a pass, which does not count towards a student’s GPA, is a D-. An F in a course will be noted as an E on the transcript and will count towards a student’s GPA.
A letter from the Committee on Educational Policy (CEP) to the faculty listed the benefits of the new pass-fail option: “First, the new option would provide Williams students with a few more opportunities than currently exist to explore the curriculum on the basis of intellectual interest alone. Second, even for those who need no such encouragement, this pass-fail option would offer students a mild pressure release from concerns about grades and grade-point averages – a release that could have a range of positive consequences for the quality of student life, academic and otherwise. Third, the proposed option would result in a decrease in the number of deficiencies incurred by students, who could choose to designate a course pass-fail, when encountering difficulties up to the 10th week of the semester, rather than withdraw from that course. Such a reduction would lead to fewer summer courses and fifth courses having to be taken by our students to make up deficiencies, an outcome that would have both academic and financial advantages for our students and for the College.”
Pass-fail courses cannot be used to meet any requirement and do not count towards a major, certificate or concentration, with the exception of the first course. Chairs of departments or programs do have the ability to grant exceptions to this rule, but only in rare circumstances.
There is no longer a separate designation for pass-fail fifth-courses; however, a class to make up a deficiency can now be taken pass-fail. Music lessons may be taken as a partial-credit fifth course. If a partial-credit music course is taken pass-fail, it does not count towards the three-course limit.
After the current semester, the Gaudino Option, in its fifth year, is set to expire. The new pass-fail option also has a sunset clause that will last five years.
“Students, while they very much liked having a pass-fail option, found the Gaudino Option too complicated,” said Peter Low, chair of CEP, on the lessons the committee learned from the implementation of the Gaudino Option. “They also felt that the lower grade floor for the Gaudino Option (the B- or .67 below a student’s GPA, whichever is lower) rewarded low risks but not high risks. That is, a student who worked really hard at a course that he/she found tremendously difficult, and received a C+, could not designate that course, in the end, for the Gaudino Option and that didn’t seem right.”